SHAW Virtually

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    The Study Gallery, Poole: 06.12.2008 - 21.02.2009

    South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell: 04.07 - 31.08.2009

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    The Particularisation of Form

    Two major influences underpin Michael Shaws work, the first is Minimalist sculpture and the theories of

    Donald Judd; the second is Piero della Francesca and his: book on the Five Regular Solids (Libellus de Quinque

    Corporibus Regularibus) which describes innovative interpretations of solid geometry. The influence of

    minimalist sculpture focuses on Judds concept of specific objects where, as Judd writes the shape, image,

    colour and surface are single. Through his practice as a sculptor Michael has subjected this concept of

    singularity of form to extensive examination and extension, so that perhaps his work is less ambiguous and

    therefore more faithful to this concept than Judds ever was.

    The ambiguity in Judds sculpture relates to most of his sculptures conforming to box like constructions that

    rely on the precision of the right angle, the consequence of this is that just as square boxes have four sides, so

    do his sculptures, and in having four sides they can be said to be made up of parts, no matter how pervasive

    the quality of the orthogonal and the square are. Further to this, the repetition of squareness without variation

    can result in a work having little or no aesthetic significance, what is required therefore is the addition of a

    different part or change in composition, to strike a contrast. The intention of this different part is that it

    will through its contrast either reinforce or destabilise qualities of squareness. Judd did this extensively, but

    because he seldom gave his sculptures titles other than Untitled they are difficult to reference in an article

    such as this that is without illustrations. There is, for instance, his Untitled of 1964 that also has the colloquial

    title of Swimming Pool. This sculpture is of a square configuration resting on the floor. Consistent with its

    square configuration it has straight sides, but the corners do not intersect at right angles, instead they are

    round. Inevitably this gives rise to the contrast between straight and round, as in the sides and corners

    respectively. Meanwhile his wall relief constructions consist of parts, that in their horizontal orientation relate

    to one another through a positioning often based on the Fibonacci series, some of these later pieces even

    containing diagonals that contrast with the strict rectangularity of the surrounding box. Could it be that Judd

    did not accept the developmental consequences of his own practice?

    In considering the artists who are associated with the minimalist movement, one could never say that its

    membership was coherent, not everyone was as deliberately restrained as Judd. Take for instance Robert

    Morris, who was involved in art forms ranging from minimalist sculpture to the elevation of his own body.

    It may, nevertheless, have been the more open minded approach of Morris that enabled him to more

    convincingly comprehend the implications of Judds narrow aesthetic. In his Notes on Sculpture, Part I Morris

    draws attention to the perceptual ramifications of Judds aesthetic by considering it within the context of

    Gestalt psychology. He writes that In the simpler regular polyhedrons, such as cubes and pyramids, one

    need not move around the object for the sense of the whole, the Gestalt, to occur. One sees and believes

    that the pattern within ones mind corresponds to the existential fact of the object. Note the pattern in ones

    mind with it the implication that our minds are somehow hard wired to respond with familiarity to these

    regular configurations. Later he expands on this by saying that the irregularity which is found in irregular

    polyhedrons becomes a particularizing quality. The irregular for Morris therefore leads to the particular,

    and it is only when the familiar is displaced by the particular and the process of perception is delayed that

    we see things as they are, not as they are known.1

    In the UK we all too often see minimalism in terms of a male dominated movement and that perhaps it was

    Eva Hesse whose work showed how sculpture might be retrieved from minimalisms strictures. This view

    ignores the contribution of Anne Truitt, an artist that Greenberg was to call the first minimalist2 As early as

    1963, as seen in her exhibition at the Emmerich Gallery in New York, Truitt was making sculpture that explored

    the perceptual uncertainty created by vertical elements whose axis is a few degrees off of the vertical. One

    such example is her A Wall for Apricots of 1968, where by this time she was not only offsetting verticality, but

    was also contributing to its perceptual significance through the use of colour.

    Some 6 years ago Michael also began working with what he called the deflection of geometry involving

    Judds theory of singularity in relation to specific objects. Although his commitment to this theory is present

    in his work, it is also reinforced by his interest in Piero della Francescas book on the five regular solids, where

    they are described with a graphic sensitivity that conveys the vitality and precision of their geometry and

    potential volume. They appear almost simultaneously to be existing in both a solid and skeletal state, making

    one equally aware of their interior and exterior; something that is common to almost all of the work Michael

    has in this exhibition. In addition to these qualities, Pieros skill in drawing these solids is suggestive of a

    process that encompasses both hand and machine, where the conformity of the machine is tempered by the

    sensitivity of the hand. I am rather speculating here, but for the last four years Michael has been working with

    the technical forming process called rapid prototyping. Through this process he has made the sculptures in

    this exhibition; all of which have a subtlety that is indicative of a process that somehow resides between the

    hand and the machine. Some of this subtlety is due to what he calls the deflection of geometry, where the

    central axis is set slightly off of the horizontal or vertical, as in the case of Anne Truitts sculptures. What this

    means is that initially the circular form of his sculptures illicit a perceptual response that seeks the symmetry

    of the circle as the underpinning of the cone or the cylinder, a symmetry that is almost always deflected by

    the slight deviation of the central axis. This is what Morris called the particularising quality and it can be seen

    in RPQC1, RP27 and RP28 where it is given an added dimension, through the interior having a more complex

    sequence of contours than the exterior. Rapid prototyping has also enabled Michael to move from the planar

    to the skeletal where the interior and exterior of the sculpture can be seen simultaneously as in RP34.These

    skeletal examples are equally convincing in their capacity to describe volume, interior/exterior and main

    and subordinate axes. Also apparent in the skeletal sculptures is the implication that the line prescribing

    the skeleton is a continuous line in a perpetual state of movement. Whilst in these sculptures, movement is

    perceptual, it becomes graphic in his videos such as What Might Be, 2007, where lines repeatedly plot and

    transcribe volumes. Finally it becomes physical movement in his inflatables, such as INF 05, 2008, where the

    form does actually move, becoming animate.

    Since its inception, minimalism has been subject to post-modern critiques, that see it as sterile, formalist and

    lacking in vitality and spontaneity, and for some of the work that is associated with this movement, this is

    undoubtedly true. Michaels sculpture suggests this pessimism may not be well founded and that concepts

    such as specific objects are far from exhausted. There is in his work a particularising quality that is indicative

    of nature itself, where patterns of growth are logical and intrinsically subtle in their complexity as described

    by DArcy Wentworth Thompson in On Growth and Form.

    Professor Andrew A Stonyer

    January, 2009

    1. Morris, R., Notes on Sculpture, Part 1. Artforum vol 4, no 6, February 1966, p 42-4.

    2. Meyer, J., Minimalism: art and polemics in the sixties. Yale, 2001, p 226.

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    RPQC2A, 2008 - (left)

    SLS Nylon

    23 x 18 x 17 cm

    (clockwise from top left)

    RPSW2B , 2008, SLS Nylon, 16 x 10 x 9 cm

    RPSW3B , 2008, SLS Nylon, 10 x 10 x 11 cm

    RP0, 2006, SLS Nylon, 10 x 8 x 6 cm

    RPQC1A, 2008, SLS Nylon, 2 x 21 x 20 cm

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    RPQC2, 2006 - (left)

    SLA Resin

    20 x 14 x 1 cm

    (clockwise from top left)

    RP28, 2007, SLA Resin, 23 x 19 x 18 cm

    RP24, 2007, SLA Resin, 28 x 18 x 18 cm

    RP27, 2007, SLA Resin, 26 x 18 x 24 cm

    RP29, 2007, SLA Resin, 24 x 20 x 18 cm

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    RP14, 2007 - (left)

    SLA Resin

    22 x 18 x 14 cm

    (clockwise from top left)

    RP13 , 2007, SLA Resin, 18 x 14 x 14 cm

    RP21, 2007, SLA Resin, 18 x 18 x 22 cm

    RP11, 2007, SLA Resin, 16 x 11 x 9 cm

    RP3, 2007, SLA Resin, 16 x 11 x 10 cm

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    RP15, 2006 - (left)

    SLS Nylon

    20 x 16 x 16 cm

    (clockwise from top left)

    RP34 , 2007, Envision-Tec Resin, 20 x 16 x 16 cm

    RP8, 2007, SLS Nylon, 24 x 24 x 18 cm

    RP35, 2007, Envision-Tec Resin, 16 x